How to Keep ELLs Engaged in Reading

How to Keep ELLs Engaged in Reading

Reading engagement is an important part of a student’s motivation to read. When you are motivated to read, you are more likely to increase the amount of time that you spend reading. This is important for English Language Learners, as they need many exposures to text. When a student is motivated, he or she is better able to learn new material. Feeling frustrated can lower one’s motivation to practice reading. This also impacts how engaged they are with the text that they are reading. In both cases being motivated and engaged helps and encourages ELLs to read more. Here are some ways to help ELLs stay engaged in reading.

Access to Diverse Books

Students enjoy reading books that are relevant to their everyday lives. Diverse books are beneficial for all children but are particularly important for ELLs. Students that come from diverse cultural backgrounds need to read about characters and topics that are equally diverse. I have collected Lists of Diverse Books for ELLs to help you start to expand your collection.

Lists of Diverse Books for ELLs

As an ESOL teacher I had my own classroom library. My students enjoyed picking books for independent reading from my collection. I allowed them to bring books home with them. I loved seeing their excitement when they are able to pick out a new book to borrow.

Student Interest

Another key way to keep students engaged in what they are reading is for them to read about topics that they are interested in. During the beginning of the year, you can have students fill out an interest survey to get a general idea about what they enjoy reading.  You can also get ideas from a graphic organizer designed to help students generate writing topics for reading materials.

All About Me Graphic Organizer

Reading Level

It is a balancing act to find books at the correct level for ELLs. The book should be close enough to the student independent reading level so that it is not frustrating. At the same time ELLs, especially as those in upper elementary school and beyond, want to appear to be reading books at the same level at their peers.

Some categories of books that are great for ELLs include graphic novels and Hi/Lo Books that are written at a low reading level, but with content that is appealing to older students.



A positive recommendation from a classmate carries a great deal of weight in convincing students to try out a new book or series of books. Consider having students give a short book talk about books that they enjoyed reading. This is a great way to help them practice summarizing the text, but can also spark interest in other students trying out the book.


After reading a books to students allow them to reread it independently. Another way to provide ELLs with familiar text to reread is through reading short phrases and sentences for fluency. For a beginning reader, repeated reading of a text helps them to increase their reading fluency and vocabulary.

illustrated sight word strips

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